Introduction: How to Make a Lightning Cloud
I really wanted to make a little cloud that would light up as though it was filled with lightning. After googling a bit, I stumbled upon "The Cloud" by Richard Clarkson. It's a beautifully executed concept and I wanted to see if I could make one too. There are lotsofexamples of "cloud lamps." What I like about mine is I built the shape of the cloud completely from scratch, so I wasn't left with a mostly round cloud (a common problem). I'm also really proud of the lightning animation I created.
This is the first of three steps. The second part of this project will be adding bluetooth control, so I can trigger weather patterns in the cloud via my phone. The third part will be automatically triggering weather patterns according to the day's weather report. I want an easy-to-use, "glanceable," aesthetically appealing weather indicator for my apartment. Plus I've heard cloud computing is the hot new thing.... :)
Stay tuned for those future Instructables!
Step 1: Gather Materials
2. Cotton balls
3. Polyester batting, 3/4" thick. It's easiest to pick out batting by going to a fabric store in person to find the right kind. You want batting that's about an inch thick. Something like this, but I'd need to see it in person to know if it was the right thickness. If you go to a fabric store, they'll let you cut a smaller amount. It should be about $6.99 per yard. I used about 2 square feet.
4. Boning (like the kind used for corsets). I used a yard and could have found use for more.
5. Needle and thread
6. Hot glue gun
9. Soldering iron
11. Sewing pins
12. (Optional) a "large" capacitor. I follow the best practices recommended by Adafruit and used a 1000uf, 6.3V capacitor.
Step 2: Build Cloud Structure
Using a piece of cardboard for the base, glue the boning to make the basic outline of your cloud. You can make hoops with the boning - I found it was easiest to sew the two ends of the boning together, and then glue the hoop directly onto the cardboard. I also tried leaving one piece of boning pointing out into the air like ribs. Both methods worked fine.
Rip your 3/4" batting in half, and hot glue it to the boning and the cardboard in tasteful, cloud-like folds. At some points, it will be easier to gently sew the batting to the boning to keep it in place. Keep in mind how many lumps you want your cloud to have, and the overall structure. You can augment later with cotton balls, but this part will define the overall shape of your cloud.
Be sure to leave a little door in half of the cloud, where you'll place the electronics. Make the part of the batting that will become the door a little thicker than you might otherwise. It's nice to have the extra support.
Step 3: Add Fluff Texture
Gently pull apart your cottonballs. I pulled apart about 30 while my hot glue gun was heating up. The cottonballs themselves have a bit of a circular structure to them, and if you tear them apart carefully you'll preserve some of those whorls, which looks really cool later when the light shines through. You can also unroll cottonballs so they'll make longer, stringier clouds if you want.
Drip hot glue directly onto the outside of the batting, and gently pat your cottonballs into place. You don't need to completely cover the batting. Since the batting is white and a little fluffy, if some is showing that's ok. I preferred to vary the amount of cottonballs I was using so the cloud would be differing densities - it's nice if the light can shine through more in some places and less in others.
Step 4: Add Electronics
First, you'll need to solder your LEDs into a long strand. I usually
take the easiest route of soldering male-male jumper cables directly to the Neopixels. The wires are flexible, the connections are solid, and it's super fast and easy. No need to strip any wires! Test your connections as you go, so you can quickly fix any issues. The basic circuit for this project is very simple. I'm building mine on a breadboard for now, but for a more permanent project, you'll probably want to solder things together directly, or maybe use a little proto board. With only 5 LEDs, you probably don't need a capacitor, but I always throw one in anyway to be safe. The polarity of a capacitor matters. That means you need to plug it in correctly for it to work. There are several ways to recognize the polarity of your capacitor.
- Look at the legs
- Most capacitors will have legs with different lengths. The short leg is the negative side.
- Look for a stripe or an arrow.
- Most capacitors will have a light stripe down one side. That's the negative side of the capacitor
The negative side should be connected to GND. The other side attaches to PWR.
Connect power, ground, and signal from your microcontroller to your LED strand:
Arduino -------> Neopixel strand pin
#4 -------> Data Input pin
BAT+ --------> VIN
GND ---------> GND
As always, if you are new to soldering, I highly recommend Adafruit's Guide to Excellent Soldering.
Step 5: Upload the Code
Getting accurate lightning animation was super important to me for this project. I played around with lots of ideas before going with hand-picked data points and a simple moving average smoothing algorithm. I'm pretty excited about how it turned out!
You might need to update these two variables to match your setup:
You can also change these variables to make lightning strikes more or less likely:
Step 6: Put Everything Together
You can try different placements of the LEDs inside the cloud. I ended up adding some cardboard pieces on the inside, because I wanted some parts of the cloud to be a bit darker than other parts. I also left the animation playing for a while, and glued on a few more cottonballs wherever it felt right.
I wanted to be able to access the microcontroller, so I just temporarily hold the door closed with a pin through several layers of batting.